Standing between the Ravens and their first playoff berth in three years is a test of their focus.
The Ravens play the struggling Cleveland Browns today at M&T; Bank Stadium, knowing that a slip-up against the AFC North's last-place team could cost them mightily.
Winners of six of their past seven games, the Ravens (10-3) have their sights on a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Browns (4-9) have been crippled by injuries and by having the 29th-ranked offense and 30th-ranked defense, all of which have made them 11 1/2 -point underdogs.
Before anyone could utter the word "blowout," coach Brian Billick issued this admonishment:
"They know better than to overlook any team in the National Football League," he said. "I don't have to beat that drum. They are focused in the meetings. They are on top of it. There is too much at stake."
Billick then added, "They've got a mission about them."
A Ravens victory clinches their first playoff berth since 2003.
If the Ravens win and the Cincinnati Bengals lose at Indianapolis tomorrow, the Ravens would capture the AFC North title. If the Ravens win and the Colts lose to the Bengals, it would increase the Ravens' chances of moving up to the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.
"You can't lie as a player; you are aware of it," linebacker Bart Scott said. "You can think, 'What if this team or that team loses?' But if you lose, then it kills everything. We've just got to handle our business."
That business today is handling a Browns team riddled with injuries.
Cleveland has five starters on injured reserve and seven starters listed as either questionable or doubtful for today's game. The Browns' starting quarterback probably will be Derek Anderson, a former sixth-round pick by the Ravens who would replace Charlie Frye (bruised right wrist).
Still, the Ravens have stressed that they will not overlook the Browns, especially because they needed a 52-yard field goal in the final minute to win at Cleveland in September.
"We barely squeaked out a win the first time we played them," offensive tackle Tony Pashos said. "They had us beat. That's all I'm thinking about."